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Bob Hope and Ronald Reagan get dissed
on June 1, 2010
Dean Martin did just about everything in the entertainment field, having dabbled in the film industry, in the recording studio, the nightclubs, and television. He had a successful variety show on TV which ran for nine years. In the 1973-74 season, to bolster the flagging ratings, a segment called the "Man of the Week" celebrity roast was put in. When the Dean Martin Show ended in 1974, NBC then began airing specials set strictly to the celebrity roast format with Martin as the always congenial Roast Master. This DVD of THE DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS features Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope getting bagged on.
Ronald Reagan was "honored" as the inaugural roastee on September 13, 1973 on the Dean Martin Show, this roast running at under 27 minutes. It was such a huge success that it paved the way for 53 other celebrity roasts. At the time, you had to call him The Honorable Ronald Reagan because he was the reigning Governor of California. So there's a bit - not too much - of political digs in this one. And because of the half hour running time, the mockers on the dais aren't allotted too much time on the podium. Dean Martin kicks off the festivities with some barbs about Reagan's film career ("His movies are so bad they were shown at drive-outs.") and then he begins ushering panelists to the podium.
Most of the folks are very funny, but a few bomb. Dom Deluise stinks up the joint with his Godfather routine, although maybe it's just me not having liked Dom Deluise... ever. I've seen swimmer Mark Spitz on the dais before on other roasts, and just when I was beginning to think that maybe he wasn't ever allowed to the podium, he gets to speak on this one. His stab at being funny clocks in at about 20 seconds. Meanwhile, raise your hand if you've ever heard of Jackie Vernon? What about Pat Henry? Well, these two guys get on the mic here, and maybe there's a reason why you've never heard of them. Nipsey Russell comes on as Reagan's twin brother "Donald Reagan" and this bit is every bit as funny as it sounds.
But the rest of the show is rib-tickling stuff, from Jack Benny ("He can't stay long. He only put a penny in the parking meter.") to an absolutely hilarious Jonathan Winters in drag as Reagan's old schoolteacher. And then, as happens more often than not, Don Rickles, Mr. Warmth himself, steals the show in what might be his best turn ever at a roast (oh, the bile on that man). And then it's the Man of the Week's turn, Ronald Reagan's turn to dish out his insults. And, looking at this guy, his warmth and easy delivery and grace in front of an audience, well, he had that something. I find him funny enough that I'm going to end up quoting him three times before this review's done. In fact, here's one of them now:
- Ronald Reagan, this time "honoring" Bob Hope: "Thank you, Dean. I was, uh, a little surprised when I was asked to be here tonight to honor Bob Hope. Well, 'surprised' isn't exactly the right word... Annoyed."
Bob Hope's comeuppance came on October 31, 1974, and it went on for 51 minutes. This constitutes plenty of ammunition fired at Old Ski Nose. Topics covered vary from his patriotism ("He's entertained six Presidents. He's performed for twelve.") to his over-acting to his dependency on his comedy writers and his cue cards. Surprisingly I don't remember his nose being poked fun of. Ginger Rogers, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Mark Spitz lounge on the dais, but we don't hear a peep from them, and this is probably a good thing. The Reverend Billy Graham, General Omar Bradley, Henry Kissinger, and Neil Armstrong open their lips, but at least they keep it short. John Wayne dishes at Bob but from location, and he seems bent more on promoting his movie (ROOSTER COGBURN) than anything else.
If you've never seen Foster Brook's drunk act, then you're in for a treat. Impressionist Rich Little and the always reliable Milton Berle crack me up, something which Jimmy Stewart hasn't been able to do for me, much as I like the guy. Howard Cosell applies his multi-syllabic skills and, in that distinct delivery of his, has a great bit reciting a verse from Dean Martin's hit song "That's Amore." Ronald Reagan, still Governor, earns some big, big laughs and delivers one of my favorite zingers: "It gives me great pleasure to tell you that, in honor of this occasion, the state legislature has unanimously passed a bill naming you California's foremost citizen." (pause) "I vetoed it."
Don Rickles brings down the house again and even provokes a spit take from Dean Martin. In a charming moment Bob's wife, Dolores, introduces her husband. The "Man of the Hour" then comes on and dispenses his own brand of, as he calls it, "affectionate malice." His humor, down the years, has been classified as vanilla, but he's fairly edgy here. On this evening some of his zingers have bite.
Unlike the Comedy Central roasts, there's not much profanity here, although, okay, in the Bob Hope roast there is that moment when Flip Wilson calls Nipsey Russel the "n" word in jest. But everyone on the screen laughed, so probably it's only my finely tuned, out of context political correctness kicking in.